The ABC FPL Transfer Guide Strikers Edition

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The ABC FPL Transfer Guide – Strikers on a Wildcard Edition 2021/22

At the start of last season I researched what went into elite performance for players in FPL and found that, for all the statistics and marginal gains that many of us genuinely enjoy searching for, you could encapsulate what makes a top FPL asset in three simple metrics:

  • A) Get Returns (5+ FPL points) in at least three of their team’s six most recent matches
  • B) Get a Haul (10+ FPL points) in at least one of their team’s six most recent matches
  • C) Play at least 410 of the available 540 minutes

I called these the ABC Transfer Criteria – signals you should look for that make a player, especially an attacker, worth keeping in your FPL squad or transferring in. With six Gameweeks now played in this fledgling new Premier League season it’s time to get out the graphics and see which strikers are performing at that elite level so far:

Allan Saint-Maximin is becoming well-known for popping up to great effect where you least expect him and here he is again, at the top of the list for Returns from FPL strikers over the opening six Gameweeks. In terms of total points scored he is only fourth, mostly because, unlike the three ahead of him, he has not had a double-point Haul so far, but for £6.8m, a Return in every game except one is more than you’d bargain for.

Before Callum Wilson got injured (actually unusual for him in the early part of a season) there was a feeling that they might strike a valuable partnership up front for Newcastle, but despite the loss of Wilson the Frenchman has pushed on to develop into the talisman’s talisman for his side, having a part in five of their seven goals so far. The only match he blanked in was when the team itself also went scoreless at Aston Villa in Gameweek 2 as the hosts surrounded him with two, and sometimes three, defenders whenever Newcastle came forward.

The forward with the most points (47) so far is the second-highest owned (44%). Forty of Michail Antonio‘s tally were gathered in his opening three matches where he provided at least a goal and an assist in each one. However, he then got himself sent off at the end of the goalless draw at Southampton, meaning he missed the home defeat to Manchester United before returning to net the injury time winner at Leeds last weekend. He’s now risen a full price point to £8.0m, but it’s a brave FPL manager who doesn’t have him in their squad in this form and with Brentford, Everton, Spurs and Villa in his path.

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It shouldn’t really surprise us that Jamie Vardy is in second place for overall points (40) amongst strikers given his perenially reliable record and yet, largely because of the impact of Kelechi Iheanacho in the second half of last season, it does, to the extent that he is only slightly more owned (13%) in FPL than Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis (12%). With Iheanacho back on the bench and Harvey Barnes taking a while to get up to full speed Vardy has taken full advantage with some vintage goalscoring form including a pair of Hauls, making the case for him even to be captained in the right fixtures. His price point of £10.4m is a little awkward, but he doesn’t face a really tough defence until Chelsea in Gamweek 12 and looks a sound investment if Leicester continue to set up as they are.

Rounding out the top three highest-scoring strikers is Gabriel Jesus with 36 FPL points, finally emerging from the legendary shadow of Sergio Aguero thanks to a new lease of life as, of all things, a right winger. He’s actually provided more assists (3) than goals (2) so far, but that combination has earned him two double-figure Hauls and a total of eight FPL bonus points. Both Jesus and his manager seem happy with his new role and there seems no reason to suspect that the Brazilian can’t keep this pace up in arguably the second most potent attack in the league behind this weekend’s hosts Liverpool. It will be interesting to see if Wildcards over the international break elevate Jesus signigicantly from his 7% ownership which is currently on a par with Patrick Bamford.

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The final member of the striking quartet opening the season at elite FPL level according to our ABC criteria is Brentford’s Ivan Toney. The subject of heavy pre-season interest as a third forward, enthusiasm cooled for Toney somewhat as, despite his promoted club’s excellent start, he himself only notched one goal in an away draw at Aston Villa. However, a 12-point haul at Wolves and an assist in his side’s 3-3 rollercoaster with Liverpool have put him back on the pace many predicted for him with his ownership of 15% now sitting between that of Vardy and Saint-Maximin. 

As managers prepare to mini-overhauls or full Wildcards over the international break it’s worth using the ABC criteria to take a step back and compare some of these performances against those of the two stars who each find themselves in almost half of FPL teams. Cristiano Ronaldo lived up to the hype with a brace in his first fixture for Manchester United, but with three games now played his start reads 13, 6, 2. If he simply repeats that against Everton, Leicester and Liverpool that would put him on the same level as Jamie Vardy (5, 2, 12, 2, 8, 11) who is more than £2.0m cheaper and slightly behind what Michail Antonio (13, 16, 11, -1, 0, 8) has already achieved despite only featuring in five games.

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That is the same number of outings as Romelu Lukaku whose FPL scores in those fixtures have been 8, 2, 13, 2 and 2, meaning he would need something significant at home to a stout Southampton defence on Saturday to make it to the elite ABC level. In mitigation, Lukaku’s blanks have come at Anfield, New White Hart Lane and at home to Manchester City, but Chelsea did romp home with a three goal salvo at Spurs and the Belgian was not involved in any of them.

What the ABC criteria are trying to do is give FPL managers a simple framework for assessing the performance and immediate prospects of players. Playing most of the minutes with a Return at least once every two games and a Haul once in every six is what every top-performing FPL attacker manages over time and so far in 2021/22 Antonio, Vardy, Jesus and Toney are the ones performing at that level.

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Toney may not have scored any of his side’s three goals against Liverpool but he did contribute an assist and this prompts a key observation about Lukaku and Ronaldo – both have three goals so far, but neither of them has an assist across eight matches between them. Of the four elite qualifiers, Toney has two, Jesus has three, Antonio four and even Vardy has one. In fairness to Lukaku, he has been creating a couple of chances per game for his colleagues, but so far none of them has actually put one away. Ronaldo, in conrast, is basically there to get on the end of things. Any assists seem most likely to come from a saved shot or a foul in the area.

The message from this is not that Lukaku or Ronaldo are flawed FPL assets, but rather that, at the moment at least, several much cheaper strikers are performing at the same, or even a higher level. Far-fetched as it may sound, it could be said that Allan Saint-Maximin, currently providing chances galore for Newcastle and relentlessly involved in their attacks, is more likely to keep the Returns ticking over and start adding some Hauls to even overtake the more feast-and-famine options of Lukaku and Ronaldo who both have plenty of midweek appointments to keep them occupied as well and lots of high-profile team-mates ready to steal the attacking spotlight, and bonus points, from them in any given fixture.

Two highly-owned strikers who sit outside this group of the very strongest performers are the aforementioned Emmanuel Dennis at Watford and Danny Ings, who helped torpedo Newcastle with an immaculate bicycle kick when they met at Villa Park. Ings has started well at his new club with a pair each of goals and assists, but never more than one in a game and his prominence in their attack is now threatened by the gradual return to fitness and form of Ollie Watkins whose 1% ownership should soon be on the way up once his name starts inevitably featuring on the scoresheet once again.

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Emmanuel Dennis did manage a Haul in only 65 explosive minutes in Watford’s home opener against Villa, but since then has retained a 12% ownership despite only adding one further goal at Norwich and the emergence of Joshua King alongside him with three assists in a pair of ninety-minute appearances over Watford’s last two. 

Some other familiar names are waiting in the wings after quiet starts to the season. With pretty much the whole country willing him on Raul Jimenez finally broke his duck since returning from his serious head injury when scoring the only goal of the win against Southampton. The Mexican joins Allan Saint-Maximin in creating the equal-most chances amongst forwards, though like Lukaku he is yet to see one converted. Jimenez himself has also had plenty created for him and history suggests more goals will now soon follow.

Somebody who has provided no attacking returns at all despite four full appearances and one as a sub is the £12.1m asset that is Harry Kane. Looking at that record and the lackadaisical efforts of Tottenham in general since the last international break I would understand entirely why you might not want to go anywhere near him in FPL. But then there was that thirty minute hat-trick in Europe which reminded us all of what he can do when he’s in the right mood and has the right backup. See what happens at home to Villa this weekend by all means, but, at only 5% ownership, and with Newcastle, West Ham, Manchester United and Everton to come when the league resumes, he could suddenly become as vital a differential as he was at the start of last season.

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Another player to miss the first game of the campaign entirely and take a while to get back up to speed is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. At £9.9m you’d have to say Vardy was currently the better choice at a very similar price point, but he is another that could assume post-international differential status if his team continue getting back on track. Neither Patrick Bamford (7% owned) nor Dominic Calvert-Lewin (4%) are available to England manager Gareth Southgate this time around. With both of their injury situations on the wait-and-see list it could be a good moment to switch instead to one of the bargain or mid-priced options who are very much in high gear as the season starts to pick up momentum.

If you are wildcarding, it’s hard to think of any reason not to have Michail Antonio apart from that he might get hurt at some point. But then you could simply transfer him out. If Lukaku and/or Ronaldo score big in a particular week their ownership means that would obviously hurt your rank if you don’t have them, but it’s important to remember that a) they’re performing well, but not stratospherically, b) other much cheaper options (Vardy, Toney, Jesus) are scoring at the same rate and c) those cheaper options are offering no obvious warning signs about slowing down.

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If your playing style is the calculated, but potentially painful, risk Kane and Aubameyang could offer significant rank rise in any week before their ownership increases by the millions. Jimenez, Ings and Watkins all have the pedigree to perform at, or near, the elite level in FPL, but, it’s hard to recommend picking them until we see their undoubted potential begin to turn into actual points, partially because they are more expensive than other options who are already producing and partially because they are less potentially explosive than we know Kane and Aubameyang can be.

Ivan Toney has his nose in front when it comes to the bargain third striker race, but it would only take a slight increase in returns for Allan Saint-Maximin to overtake him. Adam Armstrong and Neil Maupay have, respectively, promising fixtures and promising form, but both are a few steps behind those leading two. 

If you own Patrick Bamford and like the chances of Leeds scoring against Watford at home before you press that Wildcard button you could do a lot worse than consider his likely replacement, Rodrigo, who has the quality to make things happen up front for a team who will, as always, be pouring forward at every opportunity. 

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